The Irish Roman Catholic Church has strongly condemned legislation to liberalise abortion, saying that the move is 'licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby'.
Ireland on Tuesday moved to legalise abortions when the mother's life is at risk, including when she is suicidal following a public outcry over the death of pregnant Indian woman Savita Halappanavar, who died after her repeated requests for an abortion were refused while she was suffering a miscarriage.
The Catholic hierarchy has demanded that the country's MPs are given a free vote after the Irish government announced that votes would be whipped next year in a bid to get the controversial legislation through parliament, the Telegraph reports.
"On a decision of such fundamental moral importance, every public representative is entitled to complete respect for the freedom of conscience," a statement from the Catholic primate Cardinal Sean Brady and the archbishops of Dublin, Cashel and Tuam, said.
"The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I choose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I choose to licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?" it added.
The Irish government will next year repeal legislation that makes abortion a criminal act and to introduce regulations saying that doctors can perform an abortion when a woman's life is regarded as being at risk, including by suicide.
Leo O'Reilly, the bishop of Kilmore, attacked the legislation as the first step on the way "to a culture of death".
"For the very first time in Ireland it would inevitably lead to the most liberal kind of abortion," he told the Irish RTE broadcaster.
Under current Irish law abortion is criminal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother, the report added.